By Travis Gettys
COVINGTON - Some property owners along Russell Street between 12th and 15th streets are eligible for up to $4,000 in federal funds - if they want it.
The board of commissioners voted this week to choose the neighborhood from a list of seven that the Covington Neighborhood Collaborative felt could use a boost in the form of a dollar-for-dollar matching grant for exterior improvements.
"Some of the property needs to be fixed up, that's for sure," said Lula Hurry, who lives in the 1200 block of Russell Street.
City officials will contact residents and business owners over the next two weeks to gauge interest in the project, which will distribute $40,000 in federal Community Development Block Grants, said city housing coordinator Roger Bell.
If the interest is thin, Bell said, officials are prepared to move quickly to their second choice, Scott Boulevard between 12th and 15th Streets.
"The first thing we're looking for is a lot of participants in a small area," Bell said. "We're looking to make an impact."
Residents said the plan is interesting, but they wondered why some city-sponsored amenities go only as far south as 11th Street.
"Why don't we have neighborhood watch signs and flower pots?" asked Hurry, who said she would consider applying for a grant to have windows replaced on her home.
Covington Neighborhood Collaborative recommended neighborhoods that have high visibility and property owners who already are renovating.
"Folks that are already in that rehabbing frame of mind are more likely to be interested in something like this," said Rachel Hastings, director of neighborhood and housing initiatives for the Covington Community Center.
Grant money will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis to applicants who are current on their taxes and homeowners insurance, Hastings said.
Because of federal guidelines, residents also must fall at or below 80 percent of the area median income, which is $51,450, to receive the funds, she said.
Property owners can apply for a matching grant of up to $4,000 to hire a city-approved contractor to make improvement on commercial or residential properties.
Dave Weller, who owns Victory Battery Co., said the grant could help him repair brickwork on his building, which was built in the 1890s.
"I think $4,000 would be a good start," he said.
Homeowners who want to make improvements themselves can receive up to $4,000, with no matching funds required.
"You do it yourself - or, you and your brother-in-law - and you don't have to put your own money in," Hastings said.
Charles Tolliver said he would be interested in that type of grant to replace a chain link fence and repair a recent paint job on his home.
"The porch needs touching up - he put some (subpar) paint on it," Tolliver said. "I got five boys, and they can do it."
Projects like this one, which is similar to those undertaken by Oakland, Calif., and Galveston, Texas, can improve property value and restore community pride, Hastings said.
Those studies reflect what is known as the "broken window theory," which holds that people are more likely to commit crimes in areas where surroundings show signs of neglect.
Many cities have tried to reduce crime rates and improve quality of life by creating pocket parks, planting flowers in traffic islands and beautifying school grounds, Hastings said.
"It's all those little things adding up together to create a big thing," she said.
Weller said the project would help complete the transformation of the neighborhood, which was home to a number of vacant, boarded-up buildings. Now, many of those buildings display building permits and signs advertising contractors' work.
"It improves the image as people drive through, as opposed to plywood," Weller said.
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